An unlikely source of comfort

I always have music on in the background at work, but this week I’ve taken to having episodes of Mayday: Air Crash Investigation.  I was home sick yesterday and again today, so I’ve been plowing through the episodes.

“But JT” I can hear you saying.  “Don’t you fly a couple times a month at least?  Doesn’t that seem like a silly thing to do?”

You would think so at first.  But I’m actually learning quite a bit.  I’ve learned that the rule in airplane construction is that every system must be fail safe with redundant back ups.  For something to go wrong on a plane requires either huge fuck ups on the part of the pilot or a huge amount of bad luck.

Also, it’s amazing how often people survive even when those rare occasions of insane bad luck occur.  A good example is Air Transat flight 236 which ran out of fuel over the Atlantic and also lost control of their flaps, breaks, and spoilers.  They still managed to glide 65 miles and land safely.

Another episode depicted United Airlines flight 232.  In this case a catastrophic failure in its tail-mounted engine caused the throwing of shrapnel at precisely the right angle to sever the hydraulics and both redundant backups.  This deprived the pilots of the ability to control the plane.  It also prevented them from dropping the landing gears by conventional means.  They managed to get the back landing gears into place via a gravity drop, but were traveling too fast to secure the forward landing gear.  They landed the plane by adjusting the thrust in both engines to turn/steer.  185/296 passengers survived.

So watching these documentaries has actually had the opposite effect.  I feel much more comfortable flying to Kansas this weekend for Reasonfest.  I know how rare systems failures on airplanes are and I also know that chances of survival are still decent even if multiple systems fails against the odds.

Of course, there’s no preparing for something like this…

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.